Heginbotham speaks about war games at inaugural Applied IR Speaker Series

Disclaimer: Kevin Doherty is an assistant features editor at the Tufts Daily. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article. 

Research scientist and specialist in Asian security issues Eric Heginbotham spoke last night at the Cheryl Chase Center in the first installment of the international relations (IR) department’s Applied IR Speaker Series. He currently works at the MIT Center for International Studies.

The Applied IR Speaker Series aims at encouraging creative thinking in international relations (IR) students, especially as it pertains to career paths, according to an introduction by senior Kevin Doherty, president of the IR Student Advisory Board.

Heginbotham’s talk was focused around wargaming and war simulation, which have developed into integral tools in modern warfare.

Despite risks and pitfalls associated with these war games and simulations, Heginbotham said that he was a believer in their effectiveness. His expertise in the field comes from his work at both the RAND Corporation and the Council on Foreign Relations, two think tanks which focus on policy.

“In the lead-up to World War I, war games were used by all the major powers to develop war plans. Perhaps the best documented use of war games to date was done by the U.S. Naval War College during the interwar years,” Heginbotham said.

These games covered a wide variety of factors such as attrition, supplies and the tactical importance of various bases. Heginbotham emphasized their application in the Pacific theater in the lead-up to World War II.

He also recounted the wargames and simulations that Japan conducted in preparation for World War II which showed that Japan would lose the war. Heginbotham noted that sound analyses and simulations are quite frequently ignored by policy makers.

He went on to describe the effectiveness of war games and simulations during the Gulf War as well as during the Cold War.

“All U.S. Service branches run what they call ‘futurist games,’ though I have only participated in the Air Force ones,” Heginbotham said.

Towards the end of the discussion of wargaming and simulation, Heginbotham concentrated on their application during the nuclear arms race in the second half of the 20th century.

More specifically, he made the point that analyses have become increasingly complicated because nuclear warfare is no longer an issue solely between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The last portion of Heginbotham’s talk was dedicated to what he called the “think tank world” and the different types of functions, funding structures and goals that various think tanks have. He also elucidated how students of international relations can enter the field.

Heginbotham detailed the variety of ideological affiliations of think tanks, funding sources and destinations for their research. He emphasized that the nature of think tanks’ work largely hinges upon their sources of funding.

Heginbotham closed with two pieces of advice: that students should study a breadth of subjects, and that they should not limit their scope of their job search solely to think tanks. Despite his extensive background in think tanks, Heginbotham also encouraged students to consider looking to academic institutions for work in public policy.

Celia Bottger, who is studying IR and a member of the IR Student Advisory Board, explained some of the objectives of the Applied IR Speaker Series to the Daily in an interview.

“Bringing in Heginbotham is part of an effort to bring in people that work in the field to campus and allow students of international relations to hear from them about relevant careers,” Bottger, a senior, said.

Lionel Oh, a member of the IR Student Advisory Board, echoed these sentiments.

“The most important aspect of this series is having speakers talk about their experience applying international relations education on an everyday level,“ Oh, a senior, said.


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